The Soo Greyhounds are coming back with some bite.
Earning honourable mention in the preseason edition of the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings, the upstart Greyhounds return to the ice in a year that sees the club vying for hosting duties of the 2021 Memorial Cup presented by Kia and its first since 1993 when the club claimed national supremacy.
On the ice this season, the Soo will see the return of a trio of forwards who were selected in the 2020 NHL Draft, headlined by 17-year-old centre Rory Kerins who after finishing second in team scoring in 2019-20 with 59 points counting 30 goals and 29 assists through 64 contests heard his name called in the sixth round by the Calgary Flames.
One of just two CHL clubs to produce a chart-topping four players chosen in the 2020 NHL Draft, that list also includes centre Jaromir Pytlik and Tanner Dickerson, who were drafted by the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, respectively. That trio rounds out an impressive forward nucleus in the Soo that also counts veteran skaters Zack Trott and Tye Kartye.
For Pytlik, who was originally chosen in the second round of the 2018 CHL Import Draft, his selection by New Jersey follows two successful seasons with the Greyhounds, beginning with 2018-19 when he notched 19 points in 26 games before following up with another eight points in only 11 playoff outings. That offensive success then carried forward to the next season as Pytlik was a near point-per-game performer in collecting 22 goals and 28 assists in 56 games, helping him earn an invite to the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
“It was my dream (to be drafted) since I was a child and now it has become real. The Devils are a really good organization so I am super excited,” Pytlik said following his selection. “I think it was the best decision I ever made (to come to North America) because I didn’t play a lot in the pro leagues in the Czech Republic, so I came to (the Soo) and played more and had fun finally playing with the boys who are the same age as me.”
On the back end, the Greyhounds also saw the selection of defenceman Ryan O’Rourke, who went 39th overall to the Minnesota Wild. An invitee to Canada’s national junior team selection camp, O’Rourke brings a classic two-way defensive style coupled with an emerging offensive presence as evidenced by his 15-point improvement last season that saw him finish third in scoring among Greyhounds rearguards with seven goals and 30 assists in 54 games.
“For a long time, the (Soo) has produced a lot of good NHL players,” the Greyhounds captain said on draft day. “The coaching staff and everybody involved has a pro mindset and has your best interest as their view as well, so I think for me there was no better place (to play).”
In the Soo, O’Rourke will be looked to guide a deep blue line that also includes other talents of intrigue like Jacob LeGuerrier, who was drafted a year prior by the Montreal Canadiens, as well as offensively gifted defender Billy Constantinou, who finished inside the top-10 in scoring among rearguards league-wide with nine goals and 44 assists for 53 points in 60 appearances. Rounding out the top-four on the back end is fellow veteran rearguard Robert Calisti, who was also just one of a dozen defencemen to reach the 50-point plateau in 2019-20.
While the Greyhounds are expected to climb the standings, it is also anticipated that the club will continue its success at the draft table with another two players earmarked for selection in the upcoming NHL Draft.
That list begins with defenceman Jacob Holmes, a budding right-shot blue-liner who followed up his 18th overall draft call in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection by skating in 57 games with the Greyhounds.
The next wave of up-and-comers then continues between the pipes with netminder Nick Malik, the club’s top selection from the 2019 CHL Import Draft who is currently competing with his native Czech Republic in the 2021 World Junior Championship. After seeing spot duty with the Greyhounds last season, Malik will move into the top job this year following the graduation of longtime CHL netminder Bailey Brkin.
With plenty of talent in tow, the Greyhounds once again look to be a club with plenty of promise when the puck drops for the coming OHL campaign.